Chelsea were outclassed. They were outplayed but they were never outfought. Showing the fortitude of champions, the holders of the Champions League trophy never stopped believing, never stopped fighting to the end of this exceptional game, scoring the winner through Victor Moses in the fourth minute of injury-time.
The goal was created by Juan Mata, swinging over a corner that the unmarked Moses headed unerringly home as Stamford Bridge rocked with relief and delight and the song "We're champions of Europe, we know what we are". The sort of resilience that characterised their success last season was seen again last night.
As Moses walked off at the final whistle, a beaming Roberto Di Matteo tapped him on the head in appreciation. Di Matteo knew how much of a huge moment that was, how significant a goal that was. Everyone at the Bridge sensed it. Moses had made Chelsea's November 20 trip to Turin to face Juventus less of a trouble-strewn path. Nordsjaellend then visit the Bridge on December 5.
Group E is still a closely-contested affair but Moses opened up a view of the knockout stage at the end of one of the most exciting European ties of recent years at the Bridge. Those claiming that the group stage is a collection of stale encounters or boring mismatches will not have had their argument advanced here. This was compelling fare. Roman Abramovich had wanted entertainment, flowing football and a relentless commitment to attack. He certainly got that and no wonder with seven Brazilians on show. Fernandinho, Shakhtar's No7, was majestic, the Brazilian gliding across the pitch, creating havoc in elegant fashion.
Willian was a feline, predatory presence. Oscar also excelled. The first half had exploded into life, bringing early goals for Torres and Willian, as both sides set fire to their defensive manuals. Chelsea's defence was in generous mood as this captivating game got under way. David Luiz gave the ball away. The malaise inflicted Ryan Bertrand.
The teams swapped free-kicks, first Yaroslav Rakitskiy testing Petr Cech and then Luiz almost beating Andriy Pyatov, Shakhtar's unconvincing goalkeeper. Pyatov was soon exposed, his short goal-kick after six minutes placing his defence under pressure. Rakitskiy played the ball back to his keeper, who panicked, belting the ball straight at Torres. Chelsea's No?9 had gambled on Pyatov doing something crazy, running in and leaping up, hoping to charge down the clearance. The ball crashed into Torres and flew back in past the embarrassed Pyatov. Torres has scored more emphatic strikes in his career but this was reward for his perseverance.
Just before kick-off, the Spaniard had received his Golden Boot trophy for leading scorer at Euro 2012 from Kerry Dixon, and he seemed briefly inspired by the ceremony. But Shakhtar, such formidable opponents, hit back. When Ramires slipped, the Ukrainians raced through the gears in that smooth way of theirs. Fernandinho cut deep into the Chelsea box as the Matthew Harding End looked on in horror at the defensive chaos in front of them. Fernandinho cut the ball back. Willian did the rest from 12 yards. Inevitable.
Mircea Lucescu's team then pieced together an absolute gem of a move, the ball ushered up the field like a VIP being walked into a premiere. Olexandr Kucher found Alex Teixeira and the ball was then spirited to Fernandinho and Adriano. The mesmerising build-up demanded a finish of equal stature but unfortunately for Shakhtar, Teixeira fired wide. This was thrilling fare, Chelsea regaining the lead in spectacular fashion five minutes from the break. Juan Mata and Hazard linked up down the left, Mata curling a ball behind Shakhtar's defence in an attempt to release Torres. Pyatov spotted the danger, rushing out to head clear.
However admirable his anticipation, Pyatov should have directed his clearance to one side not straight down the middle. Oscar, all technique and vision, controlled the ball and then propelled it over Pyatov from 40 yards. Having earned "best original score" headlines for his wonderful second goal against Juventus here, Oscar's plaudits were of the "best adaptation'' variety. Concerns remained over Bertrand being exposed at left-back, particularly with Hazard not tracking back.
Two minutes into the second period, Bertrand was again struggling to deal with the swift incursions of the visitors. Fernandinho swept the ball right, Darijo Srna crossed and there was Willian pouncing again. With Chelsea missing the experience of the injured Ashley Cole at left-back and John Terry in the centre, the hosts' defence remained vulnerable. They needed greater protection from John Obi Mikel and Ramires in front of them.
Razvan Rat, picking up a loose ball, unleashed and hit a post. Controversy then gatecrashed the party. When Hazard teased a ball through to Ramires, the Brazilian surged into the box and appeared to be knocked over by Srna. There was contact and Ramires looked up, expecting a penalty. The Spanish referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, waved play on much to Chelsea's dismay. "We've been here before,'' chanted the home fans, remembering past unsympathetic officiating in the Champions League. Di Matteo sought to inject more energy and ideas into his attack.
The tiring Oscar was withdrawn with 10 minutes remaining, being replaced by Victor Moses. Chelsea pressed and pressed, knowing that they really needed a victory. Mikel went close. Shakhtar broke out, Adriano briefly alarming Cech. But Chelsea looked the likelier to score. Mata kept swerving in corners but Shakhtar held firm. Ramires tried to open a window of opportunity but Kucher slammed it shut. Di Matteo twisted again, sending on Daniel Sturridge.
As the game inched into injury time, Chelsea endured some nervous moments, defending desperately. The Shakhtar sub, Ilsinho, worried Luiz and company. Willian kept dribbling through. But then came another corner from Mata. Then came Moses, following the ball's flight and heading in and sending the Chelsea fans into joyous celebrations.